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Has this ever happened to you: your friend walks past you with their fragrance trailing behind. You revel in the glorious scent (think rich bursts of scent-intoxication!) Then, you decide to pick that exact same perfume on your next perfume hunt. Instead of receiving compliments for your new statement scent, your other half halts mid-sentence. By spritz-bottle-heaven, was that a nose twitch?

So why does the same bottle of perfume smell distinctly different on separate individuals? Christopher Don Au, Regional Retail and Education Manager of Jo Malone London, a luxury perfume brand, tells us more.

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Scent au natural: the perfume reacts chemically with your skin’s own unique scent

spraying perfume

Christopher explains that chemical reactions are responsible for the change in smell. Your own distinct body scent and the perfume’s react chemically. This alters the perfume’s fragrance. Factors that contribute to a person’s natural body scent includes their dietary habits, lifestyle and oil secretion.

Your body contains numerous sebaceous glands. Many of these are concentrated on the upper body. These glands secrete fluids containing fatty acids, such as ceramides, cholesterol and cholesterol esters. They are the ones responsible for protecting and leaving your skin smooth to the touch.

Chemicals within perfumes interact with these materials secreted by our skin. As a result, the scents that evaporate from the body are different from that of those originally concocted by the perfume expert. The higher the body temperature, the faster the rate of evaporation.

Also, people have varying olfactory receptors. So a scent is picked up very differently by two individuals. We each have over 400 different olfactory receptors in our noses, which means we receive smells based on which receptors are more dominant.

Notes in perfumes means more variation between two people using the exact same perfume

perfume: top, middle, base notes.


Perfumes have three layers of smells, which are called notes. Let’s break it down:

Top notes are the lightest. They evaporate soonest due to their chemical structure. As the top notes start to evaporate, the middle notes appear.

Middle notes are stronger than top notes, and play a key role to transition you to the base notes that will soon follow. Middle notes are usually rounder. They are considered the core of the perfume. Once all the top notes have fully evaporated, the base notes make their entrance.

Base notes create a lasting impression, much like a good farewell does. These are the notes that linger on the skin for many hours long after application.

What this means is an even higher chance for variation when it comes to how a perfume smells on your skin. Take note of what ingredients go into your favourite perfumes. Then, use that as a guide during your next scent shopping. Sometimes, perfume brands can update an ingredient within a note of the perfume. This means your new bottle of that favourite scent can smell different from what you remembered years before.

Gender and climate: other factors that make perfumes smell distinctly different on different people

gender and climate affects how perfumes smell too.


Christopher shares that men typically have higher body temperatures compared to women. They also usually have higher rate of oil secretion. Both factors cause the heart and base notes of a fragrance to develop faster. Gender association plays a part too – people tend to associate woody scents as masculine on men, and powerful or grounded on women.

Scents are very much a personal expression, and our personal experiences changes how we feel towards a scent. You associate pleasant memories with a particular scent, for instance.

Christopher adds that fruity, fresh, and light floral scents are more popular in Singapore because people associate it with a sense of happiness and lightness which compliments our warm climate. When the person is in a hot climate and their body temperature is high, perfumes with lighter middle and base notes are more advisable. On a similar note, certain scents tend to be better received by people in a country with a tropical climate like Singapore due to the people’s dietary habits and lifestyle.

Conversely, spicy and warm scents may be popular in countries that experience temperate climates. They are often associated with memories that bring joy, such as drinking warm mulled spiced wine on a cold winter’s night. In temperate climates, the same perfume can smell different when used on the same person but during different seasons.

Our advice? Try before you buy

While you cannot change the way your personal scent reacts with a perfume’s smell, you can always test the scent on their skin. Allow it time to settle in and check if you appreciate the scent after it has reacted to your skin’s own scent.

Perfume pros recommend you select scents based on your mood, outfit or the occasion. Choose a citrus scent to feel more radiant. Set the mood for a romantic date with a beautiful dress adorned by a floral scent. We also love how Jo Malone London provides a complimentary pampering Hand & Arm Massage service for customers who would like to try a particular scent.

Ultimately, choose a scent that reflects the image you want to portray, because that’s the personal statement you’ll be making and leaving behind.

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